Emad Burnat with his
A Lens For Healing
Palestinian and Israeli filmmakers behind
5 Broken Cameras look beyond their anger.
Special to the Jewish News
een together, filmmakers Emad
Burnat and Guy Davidi could be
one of those cliched "odd couple"
pairs so beloved of unimaginative con-
temporary Hollywood action comedies.
Davidi is Israeli, tall, thin, weedy and
mercurial. Burnat is Palestinian, shorter,
solid, graying and insistently sober in
The peculiarly theatrical atmosphere of
a morning with them earlier this year is
amplified by the central object in the chic
quiet of their Midtown Manhattan hotel
— a large cylindrical aquarium filled with
Burnat and Davidi are as far as can be
imagined from Bil'in, Burnat's West Bank
village and the location of their film, 5
Broken Cameras, which premiered the-
atrically in May (though not in Detroit).
The film, nominated for an Academy
Award for Best Documentary Feature, lost
to Searching for Sugar Man (see page 50
for related story) at this year's Oscars.
5 Broken Cameras can be seen at 10
p.m. Monday, Aug. 26, on Detroit Public
Television-Channel 56 as part of the POV
documentary series' 2013 season.
Not surprisingly, the film is as far from
a Hollywood action comedy as the hotel's
round aquarium and atmospheric lighting
are from Burnat's modest West Bank liv-
ing room. The distances can be measured
in style, intent and quality of thought as
much as in miles or kilometers.
Burnat is a Palestinian freelance cam-
eraman and photographer who bought
a video camera when his fourth son,
Gibreel, was born in 2005. Since then he
has become a frequent source of footage
for Israeli TV, Qatar-based Al Jazeera,
Palestinian Television and many filmmak-
ers documenting life on the West Bank.
Since acquiring that first video camera
with no intention other than chroni-
cling his youngest child's growth, Burnat
gradually became an informal historian
for Bil'in. When his small village found
itself pressed back by rapidly encroaching
development from the Israeli settlements
and a separation barrier that claimed
much of the land, including olive groves
that had been cultivated by the local
population for generations, Burnat found
himself not only covering the story but
living it as well.
Burnat describes himself at the film's
outset as "just a peasant:' but his under-
standing of the tensions and passions
in his community is considerably more
sophisticated. So is his perspective on the
dual role he has taken on.
Like other filmmakers who specialize
in documentaries that straddle the line
between diary and history, he frequently
finds himself torn between the urge to
keep filming and the needs of the people
around him. Over the course of the half-
decade covered by the film, we see him
Lens for Healing on page 51
Documentary raises thorny questions about
the court system in the occupied West Bank.
Special to the Jewish News
Alexandrowicz's name will be familiar
from the powerful one-two punch of his
he legal system of the occupied
first two U.S.-released films: The Inner Tour
West Bank is something of a
(2001) and James's Journey to Jerusalem
conundrum. The tenets of inter-
national law that govern the actions of an
The year after filming James's Journey,
occupying power are fairly straightfor-
Alexandrowicz was an observer at the trial
ward, but they weren't designed for a situa- of one of the younger subjects of his 2001
tion that has lasted 45 years.
film, a documentary about a busload of
For all that time, the law has been
Palestinians visiting former homes in Israel.
administered by the Israeli military, with
The young man was tried in one of the
military judges and prosecutors in the
military courts, and the filmmaker became
courts, but with the possibility of appeal
fascinated by the unhappy hybrid that
to the Israeli Supreme Court. Decisions
allowed someone to be tried in a democracy
regarding Palestinians are handed down in
under a legal system over which he had no
those courts, but comparablae legal deci-
influence as a non-citizen in his own home.
sions regarding Israeli settlers usually come
The experience sent Alexandrowicz on a
from Israeli civilian courts.
journey of his own, researching the Law of
It's a jury-rigged system, if you'll pardon
Occupation and its history, reading through
the pun, which inevitably produces unsatis- more than four decades of court cases and
rulings, not to mention a great swath of
That is a mild version of the conclu-
sion reached by Israeli filmmaker Ra'anan
He then arranged interviews with nine of
Alexandrowicz in his award-winning docu- the men who shaped this particular corner
mentary, The Law in These Parts, which had of Israeli history, a roster of distinguished
its U.S. theatrical premiere last fall (the film
military jurists that includes a former
was not released in Detroit).
president of the Supreme Court and three
The winner of the world cinema jury
former military advocate generals.
The film opens with the film crew
prize for documentary at last year's
Sundance Film Festival, The Law in These
constructing a desk, much as these
Parts can be seen at 10 p.m. Monday, Sept.
men constructed a legal system, while
2, on Detroit Public Television-Channel
Alexandrowicz explains that "a documen-
56 as part of the POV documentary series'
tary [supposedly] depicts a part of reality:'
Filmmaker Ra'anan Alexandrowicz
He continues, noting dryly that this defini-
tion is insufficiently precise, omitting a
salient fact, namely that it is a filmmaker's
construction of reality.
For the remainder of the movie, he will
periodically remind viewers that what they
are seeing is not an unmediated slice of "the
real world:' but his interpretation of it.
That interpretation emerges from his
close questioning of his nine subjects, few
of whom seem to have qualms about the
efficacy or fairness of the system they put
The Palestinians, he notes, are repre-
sented only indirectly in the film, through
the use of "images from documentaries
from the past 40 years, mostly shot by
Israeli filmmakers:' which are projected on
a green screen behind the judges.
The result is an insistent and almost
constant dialectical tension at work
visually in the film, subtly inflecting
Alexandrowicz's statement that "this film
is not about those who broke the law, but
those who administered it:'
Unsurprisingly, the issues at stake are
thorny at best. What is the status of the
land? Is there a legal justification for the
settlers seizing great chunks of it? Is there
legal justification for house demolitions,
administrative arrests, the use of secret
evidence that the accused are unable to
examine, witnesses they cannot confront?
Merely by presenting such questions,
The Law in These Parts draws atten-
tion to the terrible disparity between
Israeli courts and the occupation courts.
Alexandrowicz's rather dry delivery of his
narration, and the methodical, analytical
and unemotional tone of his interviewees,
creates another stark dialectic between law
By the time the film is over, one cannot
help but be moved by the comments of
retired Lt. Colonel Jonathan Livny, who
spent 23 years as a military judge, when he
asks Alexandrowicz: "When it goes on for
40 years ... how can it be just?"
Detroit Public Television airs the
POV documentary The Law in These
Parts at 10 p.m. Monday, Sept. 2.
August 15 • 2013